Friday, November 25, 2016

Learning as a Story - A Google Drawings template for digital posters

When it comes to learning, we focus too much on the end product in school.

Instead, think of the whole process from initial curiosity to the struggles along the way and the final insights the learner gains. Could we start to see it as an interesting (maybe even exciting) story?

That's the basis for this digital poster activity I created as a Google Drawings template.

When it comes to telling a great story, I always start with Donald Miller's concise framework. He uses it as the basis of his Storyline book and conferences. There he says a story is...

  • A character
  • Who wants something
  • And overcomes conflict to get it

Whether it's your favorite movie,  that last page-turner you couldn't put down or how your grandma tells of winning your grandpa's affections, I bet the story fits that model.

What would happen if we helped students to see learning as a story within this framework?

To accomplish that, I made a list of questions and a template in Google Drawings for a Learning Story Poster that students could complete after a learning experience. These resources require them to consider four questions based on those parts of a story:
  • A character (or characters) - Who are they?
  • Who wants something - What do they wonder about?
  • And overcomes conflict - What challenges did they face?
  • To get it - What did they finally learn in the end?
Click here to open a copy of the question sheet. It has a link to the Google Drawing template, which you can also find at the link below.

Click here to open a copy of the template in your own Google Drive. Students will easily complete their poster by...
  • Adding or changing the text prompts as necessary
  • Deleting the shapes and inserting their own pictures in those places
  • Cropping the pictures into interesting shapes to make it visually appealing
  • Changing the background colors and elements as they like
  • Including images of any products they create, including physical charts or graphs
  • Adding a table to the Google Drawing if data needs to be included
  • Downloading the final product as a PNG or JPEG image

Here's a sample one I made using some pictures I had from our video announcement team. (Click here to see a larger version that you can zoom in on.)

A complete learning story poster like this requires students to consider a few things right from the start of the project. They will need to:
  • Make note of what they wonder or are curious about
  • Develop or be aware of the team identity (if working in groups) - Don't underestimate the importance of the "character" part. A team name and picture that represents the group personality can foster strong social connections that benefit for learning.
  • Get photos throughout the process - If they forget, some quick posed shots make an acceptable substitute.

Other Possibilities

If you don't want to use Google Drawings for this, you can still using the questions and have them present it in these ways:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Problem Solving or Problem Finding?

A big part of "teaching like an artist" is being aware of our part in the environment we are making in our school. We do not create it alone, that's for sure, but we help shape it.

So sometimes my posts here turn into questions that I think could be useful for conversations between administrators or staff meetings. In this one I'll consider how we talk about problems in our schools.

If I could generalize to make a point, I see two distinct groups among the teachers I work with. Both can seem a little obsessed with problems, possibly to the point of being negative.

If you heard either group talking in the teachers lounge, you might not notice much difference. Their motivation is very different, though, and so is the end of their discussions.

One group wants to solve the problems. The other is happy to find the problem, as long as it has nothing to do with them.

No one wants to admit they're in the second group, but I think my co-workers would agree with me when I say I fall squarely in the first group. I want to identify the problem, get my brain around it and see what I can do to solve it. I'm sure I get caught up in "venting" or complaining sometimes, but my final goal is always to identify steps that will move us in the right direction.

So I talk about the problem...a lot. But what I started to notice recently is some people are content to stop the conversation before I am. It's as if they are convinced they found the real problem and (lucky for them) it was beyond their control. They aren't responsible and they can only do so much, right?

So of course we'll always have problems as we work in a setting involving so many people. We need to face the problems, identify them and discuss them. Sometimes we even need to vent our feelings about them.

But in all such conversations, we have to keep this question in mind:

Am I dwelling on this problem so I can find a way to make a positive difference? 

If not, what difference am I making?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

You Can Do Better

How would you feel if your boss told you that?

"You can do better!"

It probably depends a lot on his or her personality. Your feelings would also depend on how hard you had been worked at the task being evaluated.

But think about those four words:

"You can do better."

Taken at face value, it means there's something more in you that didn't quite show up...yet.

People often say the phrase as a softer way of saying, "These results aren't good enough."

But with the right mindset, couldn't it be a hopeful statement, filled with promise?

You could do better!

The simple fact is we can do better, and that's an exciting thought.

We probably can't do better on whatever we just finished. It's done. Maybe we can't immediately do better on the job at hand, since there are deadlines and limited dollars and other priorities.

But overall, in time, we can do better.

That's an inspiring thought for a team focused intently on an important, common goal. On the other hand, it will probably illicit groans from a group that is mostly content with the current state of things.

Does the idea bring up feelings of hope or resentment? Is it a sunset or a sunrise?

What factors from leadership, the culture and environment contribute to how it is perceived? What attitudes make the difference?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Learning as a Story

Imagine you’re in science class. After a few days of studying cells, the teacher asks you to make a digital slideshow with some online tech tool. Let’s say it has to combine pictures, minimal text and some narration.

Think about what types of projects students would submit.

It’s a safe bet we’d get a lot of pictures of models of cells with some narration telling what the parts are and what they do. It’s the updated version of a PowerPoint presentation, which too often is an uninspiring display of information.

For the teacher, these final products serve as an assessment of what was learned. Nothing more, just the facts. 

That’s an important aspect of final products, but can we do better? Lately I’ve been encouraging teachers to push for more than just the final learning. I suggest we have students document the process.

In project-based learning, this often looks like a series of pictures showing the project coming together. What I’m thinking now, though, is something much more personal.

What if we asked students to document their learning experience throughout the process

Yes, in that science lesson it would still include those important parts of a cell. But what if we asked them to keep a record of what they looked forward to or what they were curious about before the lesson started?

How about their challenges, surprises and disappointments?

What new questions came up throughout the learning experience?

And then the most important part, which we rarely seem to have time for:  What did they learn about themselves and their place in the world?

What I’m hoping is we can see (and share) the learning experience as a story. Would it be a story students like to discover? Would it be worth telling? What effect would it have on school culture if learning stories were told as if they mattered?

Could we start with a learning story of our own that's worth sharing?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

5 Habits for Teaching Like an Artist in the Summer

Since most of us teachers aren't technically working in the summer, most of these are habits to prepare for teaching like an artist. Each one builds to the final one, though, which is a great teaching opportunity anytime.

Habit 1:  Carry a sketchbook - This might not be a book you actually draw in, but there might be sketching involved. Basically it's a place you "sketch out" your ideas in any way. If you like paper and a pencil, get a small notepad to carry with you. I suggest a digital version, like a Google Docs file, that you can access on your computer, phone anywhere and any time.

The main thing is that you write down (or copy and paste or snap a picture) of any good ideas you see or think of. You're a teacher at heart, so even when you're out of that school environment, you'll see connections to your work with learners. Make a habit of quickly recording all those thoughts. When you get time, flip through the notes and develop some of them. When the best ones rise to the surface, think of how you'll bring them into reality

Reflect - Artists are thoughtful and reflection as a habit. I suggest you use my free reflection journal, 31 Days of Teaching Like an Artist. That book will guide you toward a teacher mission statement through the discovery of purpose, exercises for vision and a chance to set goals.

If you don't want to use that book, at the very least you should think over the good and bad of the previous school year. Plan ahead for the upcoming one. Connect with the dream that brought you this far and dream big dreams for the one ahead. What lesson did you learn most in the past year? How will you teach it to others?

Hang out with other artists - Art starts when the artist sees possibilities most people miss. One way to see more is to hang out with people who see more. If you can't hang out with these people in person, at least connect with them virtually or through their writing.

I still hear great educators say the best thing they ever did for their teaching was to get on Twitter and follow people sharing the best ideas. Make it a goal this summer to take your next step with social media. Find some new favorite blogs. I always recommend starting with Vicki Davis and Larry Ferlazzo.

Of course, read books. My favorite recent find is The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. I consider this required reading for today's teachers and principals. It's been a long time since I've highlighted so many good thoughts while reading. I also suggest Poke the Box by Seth Godin and Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.

Make something - This doesn't have to be related to your teaching, but make something you haven't made before. Explore some tools and techniques you always wanted to, but didn't have time. Get used to following a project from original vision to reality. Practice making art happen.

If you aren't sure what to make, but you want to explore some simple, powerful digital tools, I suggest looking at Adobe Spark. Use it to document a vacation or even just a slow, beautiful day of doing not much at all. I made a tutorial for some of the features here and here.

Depending on how big of a project you take on, you might only complete one project this summer. If you have time for more, keep going. The main thing is that you form the habit of creating (and finishing) your art.

Share it - Here's where you actually can teach even in the summer. As I said above with connecting, take your next step with contributing through blogs and social media. Use those tools to show off the best things you and your students learned and did the past year. Share what you learned from doing the four other habits listed here. Share that thing you're making, even in the process of making it.

If you do share some work at any time this summer, please consider using the Summer Teaching Like an Artist hashtag:  #tlaasummer16

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What we've done regularly

It is what we've done regularly that has made us.

Yes, some will have counterexamples to this. Sometimes big events come along that, in a day, make it impossible for us to be exactly who we were before.

But most of the time it is the slow shaping of routine that gradually directs our path. Habits are set that force decisions. In a moment of choice go for what seems obvious, maybe not even aware enough to say we chose it at all.

I bring this up because it is so important when it comes to learning. At least in the really important things that take time, it's essential to remember.

I used to teach math and my students frequently tried to dodge tough assignments by raising that age old question. As if I hadn't heard it a hundred times, one would ask, "When are we going to use this?"

Some teachers will try to counter that with some specific case the students might encounter someday. I'm not for impractical assignments, but I gave up on trying to get a possible example for every piece of the subject. More often than not, their question missed the point.

That skill, that assignment on that day very well might never surface again in that student's life (other than on The Test, of course). Who could know?

But that lesson was a moment in a long journey of learning that did indeed matter very much.

It reminds me of those old bookstores that stay in business even when large chains are a few miles or a click away. When I pull some random book from the shelf and read the odd title, it seems so unlikely anyone could stop in and want exactly that book. Yet as a whole, the varied collection that has something for everyone is exactly what keeps people coming.

It takes maturity to see the value of (and work hard for) every piece in a complex whole. I don't fault the young minds that fail to comprehend it. So many of us adults make the same mistake.

In the middle of any tough lesson or in that moment before we take our next big step, it's tempting to question the purpose behind it. It's easier to get objective, look at it from some other angle and call out the foolishness of it all.

But to use an analogy of school itself, that's the time to remember the course we're in (learning how to learn, growing in valuable skills), not the lesson we're on (solving equations involving imaginary numbers).

Of course there must be balance. School leaders have to be sure there is purpose behind the curriculum and teachers should remind students of that bigger purpose.

But to bring it back where we started, remembering that bigger purpose is definitely one of those things we should do regularly. What other disciplines, habits and practices make good learners?

What routines (good or bad) have made us what we are as teachers?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Let the Students Create

Photo from Pixabay
I asked my son, who's 15 years old, what classes he looked forward to in school. Without hesitation he said, "Woodshop." He assured me everything else was a bore. (He doesn't go to school in the district that I work in!)

This didn't surprise me. I see it over and over again in my work. Students get excited when they're making something. From Art to our Woods classes to our STEM Lab, they love to create a final product.

And making isn't just something that gets the students engaged. When it comes to human beings, I believe we were created to create. Look at the world. It is changing rapidly because people love to create things that didn't exist before. We can't help but create.

It can't just be any old thing that gets us going, of course. It has to be a final product we are proud of. It has to resonate with our passions (which are one of the great things make us unique creations ourselves). It has be be something valued by our social groups.

But don't think of this only as some physical object we will show our friends. Whatever work we do, we can view it as making something. Whatever we love to do, we can think of it as making or creating. As teachers, for example, we make lessons, but we also make exciting classes. We make laughter and moments to remember.

And most of all, we make a difference.

Seth Godin said, "You are a genius and the world needs your contribution." Angela Maiers latched onto that thought and made a life changing movement in thousands of classrooms. There's isomething powerful there.

In the end, every person wants to make a difference or a contribution. For too many people, that desire has been buried by life's events and forgotten. Some still want it badly, but are misguided in the pursuit. They will make any difference, even a negative one, as long as they played a part.

I got into teaching because I wanted to make a difference. I'm sorry to say that for the first 14 years, I too often forgot that dream. I let the system wear me down. I ran a very traditional high school math class where I made decent lessons. Sometimes I made some fun classroom games, but I didn't let my students make anything interesting. They made pages and pages of math problems.

They probably remember making a lot of mistakes.

Thankfully my dream was revived when I was asked to teach a class about career and college planning. Slowly doors opened and now my days are filled with helping teachers and students make things worth talking about.

And that reminds me. Stories are something we can make too. We usually don't make those alone. We team up with our colleagues and our students.

There's much to think about here, but you get the point. I'll leave it with some questions.

  • What do you love to make in school?
  • Do your students get to see the things you love to make?
  • What do you encourage your students to make?
  • How do you let them show it off beyond the classroom?
  • Do you remind them they were created to create?
  • What stories are you making with your students? They are being made and told whether we think of them or not!  

Monday, February 29, 2016

Trailer for Our MACUL 2016 Session - The Way of the Google Drive

I'm teaming up with my friends Clark and Jake again to deliver the best session of MACUL 2016! (We're aiming for nothing less!)

I've trained and worked with hundreds of teachers around the state in the past year and I'm convinced of this: Teachers will be transformed and recharged when: 

  • They see what's possible.
  • And they remember why they decided to teach.

We do not need more "how-to" tech training. We need to rediscover our why and blow the ceiling off our idea of what it means to teach.

So our presentation will be packed full of practical tips and tools for learning and creating like never before as well as some big ideas for staying inspired.

Check out our short trailers to get a glimpse of what's in store!

Gonna be there? Please give us a SHOUT-OUT on Twitter!
Tweet: I'll be at The Way of the Google Drive on 3/10 at #MACUL16! Check it out here: #miched

This trailer focuses on the inspiration - Remembering the dream, seeing the possibilities:

This one is a summary of some examples we'll share:

See this recent blog post for more information.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Checklists Versus Possibilities

When I taught high school math I often noticed students who had, for lack of a better term, a "just enough" approach to their education. 

They'd ask what grade they needed on the exam to pass the class, for example. They'd tell me how their parents would ground them if they had an E, so they'd do enough to at least stay in that D- range.

Their motto was, "What's the least I can do to get the lowest results I can live with?"

I see the same thing now when I lead adults in professional development activities. Some are only take care to meet the bare minimum requirements. There's not intent to actually learn something.

It's like a checklist mentality. 
  • Showed up on time...check! 
  • Sat in the morning PD session....check! 
  • Filled out the evaluation...check!
But I don't want to pick on just "that person". The reality is all of us can slip into this checklist thinking when the job gets stressful. Do I have a warm-up for first hour? Did I pick out some exercises for Algebra? Did I put those test grades in the grade book? 

Obviously there are tasks to complete and it doesn't hurt to list them, but we can go too far. We can start to see the vitally important task of education to a series of tasks to complete. 

Checklists are great when you're learning. They're good for productivity or high pressure situations. But they're the enemy of art.

We need to leave room for the good kind of unexpected. Let the students explore and discover. Give them a chance to create different end products with many right answers.

In short, blow away the finite checklist with an infinite abundance of possibilities.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Way of the Google Drive - MACUL 2016

Hey, Michigan Teachers!
Fun from miGoogle 2015
My friends Jake Gentry, Clark Rodeffer and I are bringing The Way of the Google Drive to the MACUL ed-tech conference on March 10! It all starts at 1:00 in the Pearl Room at the Amway Hotel. 

You can see the session in the conference app here.

It's subtitled "big ideas and simple tools to create engaging learning experiences", but what exactly can you expect if you attend the session?
  • Live music to kick things off
  • Fun giveaways
  • Practical examples of exciting ways we use tech for learning and creating like never before
  • A challenging reminder of what we can accomplish for our students
  • A framework for using tech to AMAZE and INSPIRE
And everyone will leave with loads of resources too! We'll share a link to our website where we house everything we talk about in the session and more.

Follow me, Clark and Jake on Twitter to keep up with announcements as the date approaches.

If you want a bit more of a preview, here are some blog posts leading up to our session at miGoogle in November, 2015.
Hope to see you there!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Eyes to See

Image by Pedro Ribeiro Simões - 
There’s a shift that has to take place when you’re first learning to make art. It happened when I started drawing. I remember it when I got serious about being a musician. At some point the new artist has to quit looking at the paper or concentrating on the fret board. His attention must turn fully to the subject. He has to see it fresh with new eyes or truly hear it with new ears.

My mother is a painter and she’s the first one who pointed this out to me. She said her students would often exclaim how painting helped them see the world around them differently.

It wasn’t just a stop sign or a bench on the way to work anymore. It was light splashing on metal and wood, leaving subtle shades and dark shapes most people never notice.

Taking this truth to the classroom, what does the skilled teacher see that everyone else might miss? I’m sure there are many things, but I’ll suggest one that made school come alive for me.

The light I finally noticed or the music I began to truly hear in school is possibility

Possibilities pulse around us in the classroom maybe more than most other places because we are dealing with young lives. They are bursting with potential. The promise of what could be can be nearly overwhelming when we stop to take it in.

A typical class of 25 elementary students is packed with some 1,500 years of life remaining, if all the students live into their seventies. That’s 15 centuries! Have you considered that before?

Imagine the good things that could fill those days and hours, many of them due in part to the slow, steady sculpting and shaping you apply to minds and hearts through your time together.

Imagine the lives they will touch in turn.

And consider the possibilities in the short term too. Maybe every day won’t be filled with miracles, but what is possible every week in your class? Do you still get excited thinking about what could be?

Students can discover their passions.

   They might experience for the joy of learning like never before.

      They can enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a dream come true.

And that tough student you have this year? Couldn’t he be part of your most powerful story one day? And couldn’t you be part of his?

If we, the leaders of our classrooms and hallways, don’t see these possibilities, how will the students?

And seeing them is a necessary step in any of them becoming reality.

There is a force in school that would reduce every amazing possibility to an A through E, every life to an adjective. From fear of disappointment or fear of hard work, far too many have stopped looking for more.

When they only talk only of good days, bad days, losers and A-students, train your heart to notice what could be. Pray you won’t miss it and that you won’t give up.

Find the excitement in those possibilities most teachers won’t see.

     Keep work hard to bring them to life.

         Share the stories so others will see them too.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Effectiveness on the Job - How we really differ from each other

Regular readers know I greatly enjoy helping people to learn and to reach their potential. As we all know, though, not everyone chooses to grow. It takes work and many people find other things to pour their energy into.

I'm sure all of us, no matter where we work and what we do, know colleagues who are effective and some who are...less effective. I had some thoughts about recently while planning professional development activities. 

First off, I had to admit I don't see teachers who knowingly cut corners and try to game the system. In other words, the differences in results are not due so much to intentional laziness. There are probably people out there like this, but no one I know would put up with the stress of teaching and consciously try to be ineffective.

Yet we obviously differ in effectiveness. So I tried to zoom in and list some specific, underlying ways in which we do differ. These differences in turn lead to poor decisions and less than effective practices.

I hope this list can be useful for self-reflection exercises and some important discussions with leaders and staff. 

We differ in:
  • What we are passionate about
  • Teaching skills
  • Learning skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Ability to self-assess
  • Problem solving skills
  • Confidence in our current abilities
  • Satisfaction with our current abilities.
  • What we know is possible
  • What we believe is possible
  • What we hope is possible
  • How much we fear failure
  • How much we care
  • Commitment to a shared purpose
  • What we want out of work...and out of life
  • Our ideas of what makes a good teacher
  • How much we think we should do
  • How much we think people can change
  • What we take comfort in 
  • How willing we are to be uncomfortable
What would you add to the list?

How can a list like this lead to meaningful conversation?

photo credit: 07162013- AD in Minneapolis, Minnesota Events via photopin (license)